Basic Biographical Details
|Name: ||Robert Kerr |
|Designation: ||Architect |
|Born: ||17 January 1823 |
|Died: ||21 October 1904 |
|Bio Notes: ||Robert Kerr was born in Aberdeen on 17 January 1823 and apprenticed to John Smith c.1838. At the end of his apprenticeship he emigrated to New York and set up practice there. He does not seem to have prospered, returning to Britain in 1844 in Mark Girouard's words 'full of American bounce'. Shortly thereafter he set up practice in London and as a self-publicising venture wrote 'The Newleafe Discourses on The Fine Art Architecture' ' a noisy and irreverent book of architectural essays' (Girouard again) published in 1846. In the following year, 1847, he was one of the founders of the Architectural Association and its first president in 1847-48. Within the next few years his self-assertive combative personality and ability to think fast on his feet saw a steady rise in his professional status. In 1851-52 he published a series of articles in the 'Builder entitled 'Architecturus to his son'. In 1852 he won the competition for the Earlswood at Reigate; in 1861 he was appointed Professor of the Arts of Construction at King's College; in 1862 District Surveyor of St James; and by 1864 he had managed to assemble a sufficient selection of plans from the leaders of the profession - illicitly in the case of Burn, leading to a damaging complaint to the RIBA - to publish 'The Gentleman's House' in 1864, a work which codified its planning and design and ran to several editions, culminating in the enlarged edition of 1871. Together with frequent contributions to 'The Builder' and the 'Transactions of the RIBA', of which he was a prominent council member, those offices and publications brought a number of important country house commissions, notably Dunsdale, Kent 1858, Great Blake, Essex 1860, Bear Wood, Berkshire, 1865-74, Ford Manor, Surrey 1868 and Ascot Heath 1868. |
His practice did not prosper, however, in later years because of lack of respect for clients, complaints to the RIBA about the conduct of other members in relation to his several lawsuits, bad costing and requests for additional percentage on his commission. Throughout his career Kerr was an indefatigable competitor at home and abroad, but after his initial success at Earlswood, he remained unplaced except at the South Kensington Museum in 1864 when his design was placed first.
Kerr's last major book was 'The Consulting Architect: Practical Notes on Administrative Difficulties' - a subject of which he had much experience - in 1886. He had to retire from his chair at King's in 1890 but continued to lecture at the Architectural Association in 1892-96. In 1891 he edited James Ferguson's 'History of the Modern Styles of Architecture', volumes 4 and 5 in 'A History of Architecture in All Countries'; in 1893 a long article 'The Problem of National American Architecture' in 'The Architectural Record', volume 3; and in 1899 four chapters of F W Andrews's 'The Principles and Practice of Modern Home Construction'.
Kerr had to resign the District Surveyor of St James in 1902 but remained in practice at Berwick House 139 Oxford Street until his death on 21 October 1904. The practice was continued by his son Robert Henry Kerr who had been articled to him in 1876, had remained as assistant and appears to have been taken into partnership in 1886.
Other publications of note:
'English Architecture Thirty Years Hence', a paper to the General Conference of Architects, 9 May 1884, published in the Transactions of the RIBA XXXIV, 1883-83. (Republished in Pevsner 'Some Architectural Writers of the Nineteenth Century' as Appendix I).
Obituary of John Ruskin, JRIBA, 3rd series, volume VII, 1900, pp181-188.
Private and Business Addresses
|The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:|
| ||Address||Type||Date from||Date to||Notes|
|Berwick House/139, Oxford Street, London, England||Business||1904 *|| || |
|31, Cathcart Road, Kensington, London, England||Private||1904 *|| || |
* earliest date known from documented sources.
Employment and Training
|The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this architect (click on an item to view details):|
| ||Name||Date from||Date to||Position||Notes|
|John Smith||c. 1838|| || || |
Employees or Pupils
Buildings and Designs
|This architect was involved with the following buildings or structures from the date specified (click on an item to view details):|
| ||Date started||Building name||Town, district or village||Island||City or county||Country||Notes|
|1864||Bear Wood|| || ||Berkshire||England||Original house|
|The following books contain references to this architect:|
|British Architectural Library, RIBA||2001||Directory of British Architects 1834-1914|| || || |
|Crook, J Mordaunt||1984||Architecture and history||v XXVII, 1984||Design and practice in British architecture, Architectural History vXXVII, 1984, pp554-578||pp563-566|
|DNB|| ||Dictionary of National Biography|| || || |
|Girouard, Mark||1979||The Victorian Country House|| || || |
|Mace, Angela||1938||'British Architectural Library: architecture in manuscript'|| ||RIBA Journal 12 September 1938|| |
|Pevsner, Nikolas|| ||Some architectural writers of the nineteenth century|| || ||p217-221|
|Summerson, John|| ||The Architectural Association, 1847-1947|| || || |
|The following periodicals contain references to this architect:|
| ||Periodical Name||Date||Edition||Publisher||Notes|
|Architectural Association Notes||November 1904||v19|| || |
|Architecture & Building News (USA)||21 October 1904|| || || |
|Builder||23 October 1869|| || ||p846 - portrait|
|Builder||29 October 1904|| || || |
|RIBA Journal||12 November 1904|| ||London: Royal Institute of British Architects||pp14-15 Obituary|
|The following archives hold material relating to this architect:|
| ||Source||Archive Name||Source Catalogue No.||Notes|
|Professor David M Walker personal archive||Professor David M Walker, notes and collection of archive material|| ||Additional information from Martin Griffiths via the website.|
|RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert Museum||RIBA Nomination Papers|| ||F v3 (missing)|